Garlic was selected as Herb of the Year way back in 2004 by the International Herb Association and the Herb Society of America. In many people’s opinion, it is the Herb of the Century – and most definitely the herb of 2022.
Origins Of Garlic
There remains some confusion and there are differing opinions on just where and when garlic originated. All seem to agree that it was cultivated in Egypt in very early historical times. Garlic and onions were said to be the main diet of the slaves who built the Pyramid of Cheops. In fact, one of the earliest organized labor strikes began when garlic was withheld from the slave laborers.
The Old Testament tells of the Israelites complaining to Moses. As they traveled hungry and afraid, they recalled the wonderful food they had eaten in Egypt. In the list was garlic. Numbers 11:5.
Benefis Of Garlic
Pliny and Hippocrates recognized and reported the medicinal value of garlic. Hippocrates also warned of the results of its excesses: flatulence and headache.
Since pre-Biblical times, healers worldwide have used garlic. In the East, patients with respiratory problems and high blood pressure were treated with it. A well know vermifuge (wormer) for man and beast, it was used across many lands and times. Even today dog owners toss their furry kids a clove of garlic daily to help prevent parasites. Some carried garlic as a charm against evil, particularly “the evil eye”. The magical properties of garlic include warding off vampires.
More importantly, garlic seemed to be a major ingredient in an anti-plague potion “The Four Thieves Vinegar”.
According to legend, the vinegar originated in France during one of the plague epidemics. Four men were able to bury the dead, but also to help themselves to the riches of the dead and dying, without contracting the illness. One story has it that the mother of one of the thieves was a midwife, skilled in the medicine of wild gathered herbs. The mixture of red wine vinegar, garlic and other herbs was applied both internally and externally. “Authentic” recipes differ greatly on the other herbs but almost universally contain garlic and red wine vinegar. A web search for recipes provides not only a wide variety of ingredients but also of uses ranging from protection from bioterrorism to a charm to hex your enemies.
Garlic As Antiseptic
In World War I raw garlic juice was used in field dressings as an antiseptic. Prior to that time, including on Civil War battlefields, garlic was applied to wounds. People did not have an awareness of germs so they did not know why the garlic was effective.
Benefits Of Eating Garlic
While herbalists have long understood the anti-infective qualities of garlic, recent studies have begun to substantiate that common wisdom. Garlic has demonstrated effectiveness against fungi, yeasts, bacteria and various viruses, including influenza. By decreasing clotting, garlic has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, thereby lowering the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Garlic is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Try this little experiment with a child. Put some garlic in your sock and some garlic in the child’s sock. Whoever gets garlic breath first is the winner. You’ll both be surprised at how fast it happens.
Cautions With Excessive Use Of Garlic
Use of garlic directly against the skin may cause irritation or blistering. Since garlic reduces the tendency of platelets to clot (“thins” the blood) you need to let your physician know about any supplements you are taking, including more than culinary “doses” of garlic. This is of special importance if you are going to have an operative procedure. When preserving fresh garlic you must keep it in the freezer or in a liquid with an acidity of below pH 4.6. If not, botulinum spores can multiply and produce deadly toxins.
Culinary Use Of Garlis
Strong when eaten raw, cooked, roasted or sautéed, the flavor mellows. With such complex and delightful flavors, there’s no reason to ever need a garlic supplement! Garlic is a prominent seasoning in a wide range of ethnic cooking. It also adapts well to everyone’s “down home” cooking.
Roated Garlic Recipe
- 2 heads of garlic
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- Preheat oven to 425ºF.
- Cut off the top ¼ of each garlic head so that some of the raw garlic is exposed.
- Place heads on a sheet of aluminum foil and drizzle with the evoo.
- Wrap the foil up and over the garlic leaving an opening in the center for steam to escape. Press foil into a packet on and cookie sheet and roast for 45 minutes or until the heads are soft when pressed.
- After garlic has cooled, squeeze out the soft garlic cloves.
- Store unused cloves in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Roasted garlic can be used as a spread or combined in a variety of foods. Try it in your own mashed potato recipe.
Subspecies Of Garlic
There are two subspecies of garlic: softneck (Sativum sativum) and hardneck (Sativum ophioscorodon). Softnecks are harder to peel than hardnecks making them ideal for storage ability. This is the subspecies found in grocery store produce departments, garlic salts and powders. Softnecks are further divided into two subcategories: Artichoke which has overlapping cloves and whose taste can be hot and Silverskin the longest lasting which can be very hot!
Selecting The Best Garlic At The Supermarket
When selecting garlic at the grocery keep in mind the tighter the skin the longer the garlic will store and generally, the hotter it will be raw. If you’d like to try planting your grocery store garlic it’s worth a shot. However, some garlic is sprayed with a product that inhibits sprouting so you may not experience much success.
Hardnecks produce less per acre and have a shorter shelf life so are not as easy to find commercially raised. These subcategories are easier to peel and more flavorful than their softneck brothers: Rocambole, Purple Stripe and Porcelain. There are many different types of garlic within each of the sub-categories.
Culinary and medicinal gardeners will be interested in raising and experimenting with the varieties for flavor and effectiveness. The rose gardener will also be pleased to plant garlic at the base of their prized beauties. Roses love “the stinking rose”. Garlic is available from a variety of garden catalogs by mail and online. Three well known sources are Johnny’s Seeds (https://www.johnnyseeds.com/), Jung Seed Company (http://www.jungseed.com) and Seed Savers (http://www.seedsavers.org) .
A heavy feeder, garlic likes well drained soil which is high in organics. It prefers full sun but will grow in partial sun. You get “seeds” or bulblets by breaking apart the head and planting the individual cloves 3″-6″ apart with rows 8″-12″ apart. A hole twice the length of the clove should be dug to receive the clove, flat end down. Mulch heavily.
Ideally, planting should take place in the fall, 2-3 weeks before the first frost. This gives the plant a chance to put down roots while the temperature stays above 40ºF. Insignificant stem growth may take place during a mild late fall/early winter.
During the winter the plant will remain dormant, restarting growth in the spring. In the early summer scapes form. These “little heads” will shoot up from the plant like a lily stem. Cut them off. They pull energy from the plant and as a bonus they have a mild garlic flavor and can be used in any dish calling for garlic.
Garlic can be planted in the early spring but it will only grow a small head with no divisions. If allowed to remain in the ground, it will produce for the following harvest.
Keep the garlic weeded and water throughout the season until the plant begins to dry. Compost on planting and use a 5-10-10 fertilizer when the plants begin to sprout. Harvest as the stems begin to dry.
Wipe excess dirt from the head being careful not to scrape or bruise the bulb. Trim the roots and hang in bunches of 6-8 in a cool dry place for 2 weeks. Stems can be braided together and tied with raffia for decorative storage. Keep in a cool dry place in bunches or mesh bags.
- Another wonderful use of garlic in the garden is in an herbal pesticide/fungicide:
Blend 2 cups of water with 4 cloves of garlic, a handful of wormwood and 6 dried chilies.
- After pulsing in the blender, pour through a cheese cloth to strain and place into a spray bottle.
- This will not kill instantly, but will serve as a deterrent.
- Reapply to plants as needed.
An indispensable kitchen staple, the cornerstone of the herbal medicine chest as well as adding interest and protection to the garden, garlic must have a place in your life in 2022 and beyond.